Monday, October 31, 2011

Reflections on the season, and all that.

A perfect All Hallows Eve, we drove up to the coast and walked, watched a surprisingly surfy sea for the Bay, little spray-topped curling waves and a collection of kite surfers enjoying them, their kites bowed over like herons' wings.  

On the way, raggedly effusive reds and pinks of lingering geraniums, petunias and roses embroidered the backdrop of gold-brown-yellow-orange leaves.  Where have the field maples been until now, how is it they only become visible in autumn?  The shimmery, sandalled verticals of the poplars are best of all though.  I know Tolkien divides people fiercely, but I hold to the middle ground, or sit on the fence if you like; I remember someone saying about Wagner that, all his sins notwithstanding, he sometimes entertained angels unawares, and that's rather how I feel about Tolkien*.  I can't look up into autumn-turning poplar woods without the word Lothlorien speaking itself to me.

We'd cried off a dinner date for this evening and have relished the relief of doing so all day.  I lit the first fire of the season - having cleared out the grate including a poor dead sparrow and the soot it had brought down with it - and soon was pulling off fleece and thick socks and experiencing delightful levels of warmth - we've turned our radiators on but are resolutely leaving the thermostat at 18˚, and so far they've barely come on, but it's started feeling slightly damp and chilly at times.  I made a stewy-soup with chicken and butter-nut pumpkin and chestnuts and dumplings in it, among other things, and we were warmer still.  And just before that there was some unaccustomed noise and commotion in the road, and peering out we saw some eerie small personages outside.  

Now trick-or-treat may be commonplace for better or worse to most of you in the Anglo world, but here it's still not widespread. Some years I make pumpkin lanterns, and soup or pie from their insides, and our elderly neighbours used to look with bafflement on them in the window and remark that it was a bit early for Christmas, and they were equally nonplussed about the pie.  Since the family next door (not Charmless, the other side) nearly broke our hearts a couple of years ago by moving away to live down the road in a big smart new house the bourg without saying goodbye, I haven't bothered putting the Jack O'Lanterns in the window, though I might put one on the hearth.  They didn't slip off  without saying goodbye ( filer à l'anglaise, as the expression goes) because they didn't like us, I'm sure, but out of a kind of shyness, a dislike of departure, not wanting to fuss, or upset the children, or something.  But we were fond of them; Sarah used to come to the downstairs window sill when she was barely high enough to look over it and repeat 'Il est où, Tom?' so that sometimes Tom used to duck out of sight to be able to get on with whatever he was doing.  We've seen them around since of course, and before they let it to the elderly lady who's there now, I asked Gwen, the mother, what they might do about the little old house which was still empty. She said that they weren't allowed to think of selling it as Sebastian, who's eleven, insists that as soon as he's old enough he's going to come back and live there, as he was so happy here.

But there on our doorstep were three wee horrors, Sebastian, Sarah and their cousin Laure, with a paper bag, big grins, wigs, hats and face paint.  We made a show of astonishment and non-recognition and Sebastian, being in charge, hastily  informed us that he was Sebastian, and this was Sarah.  No, I said, that is a small witch.  No, really, he said, it was Sarah, who opened her mouth to reveal vampire fangs, at which we squealed dutifully.  I wished I'd made the butter-nut into a lantern.

Thankful for our boiled sweet habit, I dug into the jar and dropped a handful into the paper bag.  They trooped off and Gwen, who was taxi-driving in the background, gave us a cheery wave and said that they knew they could come to us as we'd know all about it.  We waved them off and told them what a pleasure it was to see them and how beautiful they were, and really meant it.  We kept grinning about it for the rest of the evening.

* and all his angels notwithstanding, his poetry was truly awful.


Well, the first fire, Halloween, golden groves unleaving, and its the time of year for daily blogging again.  I know a lot of people are sniffy about Nablopomo as a slavish following of what others begin, an affront to their freedom of spirit, last year's model, a grotesque acronym etc, but no one has to do it, and I enjoy the push to daily practice and the opportunity to use up odds and ends, so I'm giving it a go as usual. See you tomorrow. 


(Window carving, Saffron Walden church.  Apropos of nothing much.)


marja-leena said...

Such a lovely way to enjoy the last day of October! And I adore the photo.

the polish chick said...

we have just shut the door behind my 15 month old niece whose trial run this was for next year's real trick or treating. she was dressed as a panda bear, and loving loving loving becoming her own teddy bear. it was adorable and i felt my heart squeeze in the most delightful way. mr. monkey asked me why i didn't want one of my own which i don't understand - can i not adore the little human without wanting to produce one as well? yes i can! and do! happy halloween!

zephyr said...

What a wonderful Halloween story.

Catalyst said...

A wonderfully, warm remembrance of one Halloween night. Thanks for writing it, Lucy.

Roderick Robinson said...

Thanks for filer à l'anglaise, I didn't know that one. But I did know, and was taught it at school: Pistol: "My Doll is dead of malady of France." one of the rare useful things I took away from Bradford Grammar School. er, that's the phrase, not the disease itself.

Halloween in the USA was popular and properly organised (parents lurking at the end of the driveway) and we prepared accordingly. Also I had two little witches of my own to take out. Here it's like "carols" at Christmas - a half-hearted attack of rapacity - and I fear I resort to the computer, print out a small poster I created in Quark five or six years ago, stick it on the front door window and we retire behind the curtains.

Your talk of central heating and thick socks defines the transition between summer (a juvenile time of year where there is no need to take heed for the morrow) and winter (where the act of preparation itself is an adult act). Why I might even try to write a sonnet, fledgling tendency squeezed out for some time now by great slabs of novel prose. A threnody, perhaps, but somehow winter seems too comfortable (indoors at least) for lamentations. My abiding memory of winter in Brittany was of your car immovable under a great duvet of snow.

earlybird said...

That was a lovely write. I agree about Lothlorien.

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

Around the towns here one sometimes sees these days quite demure little groups of dressed-up kids. Attempts to commercialise the festival have more or less failed, and indeed there was quite a reaction against it as creeping Americanisation in some quarters, with an attempt to reinstate the Mardi Gras carnival to compensate, but that didn't much take off either.

Out in the rural areas of door-to-door progressing isn't very feasible, and the French tendency to barricade oneself behind shutters at day's close doesn't help, though that's relaxing a bit.

On the other hand partying for youngsters on the last night of October here seems to me quite a good idea, as 1 November is always a public holiday, Toussaint, the one where everyone feels obliged to go back to their ancestral turf, pay homage to the old and the dead, smother the cemeteries with chrysanthemums (don't ever give a French person chrysanthemums unless they're dead - the person not the chrysanths - it's bad luck), and sit for stultifying hours over a family meal. Seems to me the kids need something to alleviate this.

Sebastian, Sarah and co, who presumably were en route from home to the lotissement where their grandparents live, have had a dreadful loss by suicide in their close family in the last couple of years, so I imagine Toussaint is likely to be heavy going. So I'm really glad they got to have some of the fun and warmth and light to offset some of that darkness.

When we lived in a residential close in Devon, Halloween and trick-or-treating was observed cheerfully and politely and generally enjoyed. In America the the threat aspect seems to have been minimised, and I don't get the impression that that has permeated the practice such as it is here much either.

Typically, I'm afraid, in much of Britain the menace and greed seems to have become predominant, so the business has got itself a bad name.

'Filer à l'anglaise' is sometimes compared with 'French leave', but the sense is quite different. I think it genuinely does reflect the comparative reluctance and uncertainty we have, about greetings and partings and the degree of formality attached to them: we prefer not to make a fuss. It's not exactly pejorative, is accepted as possibly a question of being discreet or tactful or self-effacing, but also can be seen as rather graceless and regrettable.

It's a useful one to know though, as it can be employed with humour when it's what you want to do!

Winter: we were told when we came that snow was a rare thing here, and it is erratic, but we've had quite a bit some years. Last year's early December duvet was quite unusual. Our autumns are often mild and pleasant, frosts late. The damp and grey can be wearying.

HKatz said...

Good luck with Nablopomo... I'll be happy to see more of your writing.

There's so much 'autumnness' in your post. The best of autumn (aside from the trick-or-treating, which even as a kid I didn't think much of). Chicken, chestnuts and dumplings in a stewy-soup sound delicious.

Unknown said...

I like the expression "filer a l'anglaise", because it contains a truth about a modest habit of self-abaisement, and also because as a homophone it suggests a steak, or perhaps biftek which is what the French call us as we call them frogs.

YourFireAnt said...

Your post sounds all cozy and wistful and true.


Rosie said...

We have always been told that filer a l'anglaise was more a question of sneaking off without saying leaving a restaurant without paying! Your version paints a rather more respectable picture of modest self effacement!

Lucy said...

A bit more research into filer a l'anglaise sort of confirms the 'discreet' definition - 'discretement' in the French Wiktionnaire, but with less complimentary origins: from the verb 'anglaiser' which meant to steal ( cf 'to welsh' ie on an agreement in English!). Sneaking off, stealing away, doing something 'on the quiet' are all a bit ambiguous. There's certainly an element of mistrust there!

Plutarch - filet (de boeuf) a l'anglaise = semelle de chaussure as far as most French people are concerned!

Julia said...

30 days of Lucy is a great treat to look forward to! And I agree - lanterns and a little fun for kids works well just as the days get so short.

julia said...

a perfect post!

Rouchswalwe said...

I read this sipping my first real heavy autumn ale. Nice!!